So why the Shat Birder?

I got a bit of stick for calling my blog The Shat Birder and contrary to the jibes it is not a description! Shat is actually (believe it or not) the local name for the village in which I have lived all my life, Skelmanthorpe.
Skelmanthorpe is on the outskirts of Huddersfield and in the 1870’s during the construction of the railway line (which is now Kirklees Light Railway), local unskilled labourers were drafted in to chip away at the rock that would later carve out Shelley Tunnel. These local lads were nicknamed stone “Shatterers” by the Irish navvies who had been employed to lay the line. The taunting from these “foreigners” actually ended in a 200 man mass brawl, which saw one of the Irish workers getting part of his ear bitten off! It was this incident that coined the phrase “Shat lug oyl biter” which when translated from broad Yorkshire is basically “Skelmanthorpe Ear Hole Nibbler”. Since then though, nearly 140 years on, Skelmanthorpe is still known as Shat! And all its inhabitants by the abbreviated “Shatters”!

Sunday, 24 January 2010

Winscar & Harden

This weekend has been fairly bird free to be honest, with no new additions to the 2010 list. A walk around the outskirts of Skelmanthorpe didn't bring much, possibly due to an organised shoot in Blacker Wood. If the birds knew what was best they would have stayed away? I did head up to Winscar though for a couple of hours to see if anything was on the water but that too was quiet. It did make for some great scenery though.

Winscar Reservoir

I parked up to take a walk out on one of the footpaths in the Harden/Snailsden valley as it has been very good in recent years for wintering raptors, a Kestrel was the only bird of prey sighted. Red Grouse were vocal in and amongst the heather and a small flock of Bullfinch flited around the tree's on the roadside, keeping their distance. All in all it was a great walk, just short on numbers when it came to species of birds seen.

Harden Reservoir

A distant Castle Hill

Wednesday, 20 January 2010

Fairburn Ings & Blacktoft Sands

Sunday was really a tale of two halves in terms of habitats, with raptors being the constant theme throughout the day. The golf course was STILL closed so the father son birding tag team hit the RSPB reserves. Not only is he good company but my dad has a knack of seeing the slightest flourish of feather and has alerted me to a birds presence many times when I’ve had my eye to the telescope looking completely the wrong way. The old two pairs of eyes are better than one clichĂ© it certainly is.
We didn’t set of till mid morning. The plan was to spend an hour or two at Fairburn Ings before nipping down the M62 to get the last few hours in at Blacktoft Sands. Surprisingly even though the weather had been milder and the bulk of the snow gone, large areas of water were still frozen. This was reflected in the number of birds seen. The highlight of many a trip to Fairburn is the Long Eared Owl roost and it didn’t disappoint today either, only one bird was present although the number at any one time does fluctuate. I’ve been before and seen five birds at the same roost site, but whether its one, five or fifteen, you can never get bored of seeing owls in the wild.
Due to the recent conditions Blacktoft Sands had been closed for long periods as the access paths had become hazardous. Rather than trek out there to turn back we used the facilities and got the helpdesk at the visitors centre to phone up and check it was open before setting off, is that abusing the membership? A quick walk around the path before leaving produced 5 Willow Tit, all using the feeders along with good numbers of Tree Sparrow. Willow Tit are very localised birds never seen in any great quantities so a trip to Fairburn is worth it just for this alone. I’ve had singles in the past few years around a few local reservoirs in Huddersfield, none of these areas are a dead cert though. This may be even more so after the recent cold spell? Let’s hope not.

A nice male Chaffinch which frequented the feeding station

In terms of bird numbers, Blacktoft was quiet too but it’s the quality here that makes the place luring. Within seconds we had Marsh Harrier quartering the vast reedbeds, occasionally plunging down on unfortunate prey.

Merlin’s were active too but the real buzz was watching the ghost like aura of a hunting Barn Owl sweeping across the horizon pausing to hover before drifting away. That for me is birdwatching!

As dusk approached, small skeins of Greylag Geese came in, giving company to the franticly feeding lone Shelduck.

A Kestrel had an altercation with the Barn Owl who seemed to be hunting on “his” patch and before we knew it, it was coming dark. Engrossed in the surroundings we had lost track of time. On leaving the reserve, the surrounding fields had feeding Roe Deer and Brown Hare which put the icing on the cake for a superb afternoon.

Saturday, 16 January 2010

High Hoyland

With a few hours to kill, I thought a walk around High Hoyland church may be productive for mixed finch and bunting flocks. Before I’d even got there I had picked up a Green Sandpiper feeding around the edge of a pool in the old Emley Show field which had been created by the thaw. The hard part was finding a place to park up to view the bird from which didn’t already have a lone middle aged guy sat there in a steamed up car. Needless to say these guys weren’t birdwatchers. In fear of being shagged (or in recent weeks murdered!) I opted to watch the bobbing sandpiper from the safety of my car, which unfortunately was through a hedgerow, so didn’t really get the best of views. I seemed to be attracting quite a bit of attention too? Cars would slow down with some random guy staring into my car, look at me, then crawl away and park up. It was obvious I was getting invites to a woodland party that I didn’t want to go to. High Hoyland church here I come.
In recent years there have been massive mixed flocks of birds here which have included, Lesser Redpoll, Linnet, Goldfinch, Chaffinch and Brambling. There were small numbers here today with only a handful of species seen. Small flocks of Yellowhammer and Reed Bunting would alight from the crops, joining Goldfinches before disappearing again with the graveyard holding good numbers of Blue and Great Tit with a pair of Bullfinches flitting around the headstones.

A small flock of Yellowhammer and Reed Bunting

A good scan of the trees didn’t produce any roosting Tawny Owl this time though. If they have any sense they will probably be tucked away in the warmth of the purpose built box. The odd Red Legged Partridge would flush from the hedgerows as I walked along the edge of the fields. The amount of feeding stations dotted around for the partridge makes me think the handful that I saw were merely the tip of the iceberg. They could be heard calling from most areas but the tall cover made them impossible to see. An unusually pale Buzzard caught my eye too and after much deliberation it was left at that, a Buzzard.
I will probably keep trying this area for the next few weeks to see if the bird numbers build up which may hopefully pull in a few Brambling. The one thing that has remained consistent from last year though is the number of Rats! The one I saw today was massive, so they are clearly living well!

Monday, 11 January 2010

Calder River

With the Golf Course still closed, I had my wingman for the second weekend running. The fact my Dad was joining me was made even better when he said he would drive, his car is slightly better than mine when it comes to handling snow and ice covered roads. My car seems to have a mind of its own in these conditions. Having dipped on the Smew the previous weekend we decided to have another go further down river based on a sighting posted on Birdguides the day before. We parked up by The Navigation pub to be immediately greeted by a Fieldfare feeding on berries which posed for a few shots before we headed towards the river.

As we got to the steps leading up to the footbridge we had a slight vantage point over the river to the far bank. This was one of those “right place at the right time” moments, as soon as we could see the other side, a Water Rail left its cover, scurried across a small clearing before vanishing again into a thicket. A chance sighting of such an elusive bird, to be fair, every sighting I have ever had of Water Rail has been a glimpse at best. Still, a great start to the day, and year. The footbridge had another surprise, an incredibly brave or totally lost Pygmy Shrew, who was completely oblivious to us peering down on it while it found its bearings.

Due to the main bodies of water being frozen the free flowing river seemed to be teeming with birds. Within a few minutes of being on the riverside path we had Tufted Duck, Pochard, Wigeon, Teal, Goldeneye, Gooseander, Mallard, Cormorant, Redshank, Kingfisher, Grey Heron, Little and Great Crested Grebes, the list goes on. That’s not even mentioning all the regulars in the bushes and trees. The path winds around a sewerage farm where the filter beds were alive with Pied Wagtails and Meadow Pipits, with a single Grey Wagtail adding some colour. The large numbers of birds hadn’t gone unnoticed with the local Sparrowhawks, which were practically queuing up. This area must be like McDonalds for Sparrowhawks.

It wasn’t long after when we eventually got sight of the main event, a stunning drake Smew. These are migratory ducks that summer in northern Scandinavia and Siberia, with only 200 or so (if not less) reaching the UK every winter. Unfortunately I could only muster a blurred flight shot as it took to the air when spooked by couple of youths walking along the path. They are very shy ducks indeed, opting to fly further up river rather than diving like Goldeneye, or merely swimming away like Gooseander. Should it stay in the area though, there maybe other opportunities to get a better photo? A quick walk to see if we could relocate the Smew produced another sawbill in the form of a female Red Breasted Merganser, which can only be the same bird we saw the previous weekend a mile or so up river near the Calder Wetlands and Pugneys area. This put the icing on the cake with a cracking trio of Gooseander, Red Breasted Merganser and Smew, whom have acquired their family name of “sawbills” from small tooth like serrations on their bill which provide better underwater grip whilst hunting fish.

It was a poor day for photographs due to bad light and shy subjects but a superb few hours of birding with Water Rail, Smew and Red Breasted Merganser taking the honours, closely followed by a perched roadside Buzzard on the way home at Bretton.

Saturday, 9 January 2010


A few Friday night beers in The Grove laid the foundations for an afternoon walk the next day around Langsett Reservoir. This suited me down to the bone as not only is it a great walk, the scenery and wildlife can be top notch too. The rarity was the fact it was a “family” walk, something I can’t remember doing for a very long time. The family being Myself, Mum, Dad and Sister, Miss Piggy had swollen glands giving her a Sophie Ellis Bextor moon face look, so naturally couldn’t face the public and junior Shat Birder was glued to the TV praying that Atreyou and Falcor could combine to stop The Nothing taking over Fantasia in the Never Ending Story!

The plan was to park up and just keep walking until we felt the paths were not suitable and turn back. This never happened, as although the snowfall had been heavy, the paths particularly on the moorland section of the circuit were still clearly visible and well trodden. The opposite hillside was hosting the men’s downhill championships with sledges, bin bags, snowboards and rubber dinghy’s all been used to race down. Part of me wanted to be over there! I can handle the hurtling down it’s the trudging back up that I loose interest with.

A cracking male Bullfinch was probably the only bird we had seen for the first half hour but anybody with some decent tracking skills would have had a field day as the woodland floor and adjoining fields were littered with footprints in the snow. I can only think that Rabbit, Fox and possibly Hare were some of the culprits, maybe even Squirrel? A short stop at the bridge was prolonged by the hypnotic effect running water has. It had us all leaning over the bridge, following the flow of the river into the reservoir. Something made even better by the snow covered stepping-stones and hanging branches.

Once out on the moorland, small parties of Red Grouse could be seen scratching away at the snow to get to the Heather. Although prolonged periods of snow such as this are fairly uncommon, the grouse are ideally suited with feathered feet and unusual feathered nostrils.

The feeding parties would occasionally take flight, forming flocks of 100 or more birds, circling a few times before dispersing back into the Heather.

Whilst out on the most open part of the walk a cloud appeared which was clearly heading our way and before long we could see that snow was on the way. This sent my Mum into a gibbering frenzy who was demanding we up the pace. It was as though she had had a premonition of some sort of hiking disaster. I understood her concern that we had snowfall fast approaching and we were out on a moor but the panic she had worked up was falling on deaf ears. I think my Mum could see in her minds eye a mountain rescue team getting the dogs and heat seeking helicopter ready to search the Langsett area for the “missing” family. The next person onto Langsett Moor would be Michael Burke filming a reconstruction for 999! The following actors would need hiring though to make it anywhere near believable,

My Dad - John Goodman (who’s possibly dead? Sorry John if you’re not)
My Mum – Mo from Eastenders
Myself – Jean Claude Van Damme
My Sister – Kerry Katona

As predicted by myself, the blizzard Armageddon my Mum was expecting had blown over in seconds revealing clear blue skies and dazzling scenery. As the path neared the tree line we came across two belters, a pair of Crossbills perched in the treetop. Unfortunately from a photo point of view they were just out of range but at least I managed some sort of record shot. It’s a shame too as the way they were perched really showed off their colours in the sunlight. Crossbills as the name suggests have an adapted beak enabling them to prise open pinecones to extract the seeds, stunning birds in close proximity.

The other birds seen were Blue, Great and Coal Tits with a Great Spotted Woodpecker putting in an appearance as it flew across a clearing. On the water were Mallard, Teal, Wigeon and a pair of Canada Geese, all resting on the ice, which probably covered 85% of the reservoir. It’s hard times for the birds at the minute.

A Hot Chocolate and piece of Parkin from the cafe were just rewards for an enjoyable few hours in an area that could be on appearance alone deepest darkest Scotland or Scandinavia, not somewhere 20 minutes from Shat!

Monday, 4 January 2010

Pugney's and Bretton Lakes

Sunday morning I decided to head down to Pugneys to try and catch up with the Ferruginous Duck and Ring necked Duck which had hung on from Christmas time. Both birds were already on my 2009 list but would be great additions for this year. Due to the overnight sprinkling of snow, golf courses were closed so my Dad fancied a trip out too as he was now at a loose end. After parking up at the Swan and Cygnet pub we were greeted by another few birders. The ice had almost covered the lake, shepherding the waterfowl fairly close to the bank to a small area which had remained ice free. A few scans with the telescope couldn’t pick out either of the ducks on today’s hit list. The variety was good though, Little and Great Crested Grebes jockeyed for space with Coot, Tufted Duck, Pochard and Wigeon.

We headed over the road to the main country park where within five minutes of being there had located the Ferruginous Duck on a small patch of ice free water congregating with a few Pochards and Tufted Ducks.

Here it is shown at the back with two male Pochards to the right, two male Tufted Ducks to the left and a female Pochard in the foreground.

We could see that the Nature Reserve lake was fully frozen but gave the hide a try for 20 minutes as these are very good conditions for encouraging elusive birds such as Bittern and Water Rail to leave the reeds. The Bittern did show but all very briefly. After 30 minutes of scanning the reeds for any signs of its re-emergence I began seeing things that weren’t even there! Did that reed just move? Bitterns have this effect on Birdwatchers. Unfortunately we didn’t see a Water Rail, which are timid birds at best.

Word had got round that the Ring Necked Duck had been seen back over the road behind the Swan and Cygnet pub but on a different pool to the one previously scanned. Again, when we got there, plenty of birders were around as the Ferruginous Duck had made its way over too from the main boating lake. The Ring Necked Duck showed well, mainly because of the ice restrictions but was always a little too far away for any sort of decent picture. The added bonus came in the shape of a female Red Breasted Merganser which was associating with Gooseanders on the River Calder. We had tried this area on the off chance that a Smew which had been seen recently was maybe in the area. Sadly we didn’t find it. A fly by from a Mute Swan gave us some compensation though!

On the way back the light was still OK so called in for a walk around Bretton Lakes. The tree tops were alive with Nuthatches which seem to be thriving around the lakes.

The Treecreepers could be heard calling too. It was the second time of asking when we eventually spotted our first for the year. We had spent 10 minutes with necks cricked staring into the treetops trying to find the source of the sound before giving it up as a bad job. The second bird gave good views though once it was located. A calling Greater Spotted Woodpecker couldn’t be picked up either by the lower lake so I had take a photo of the two Highland Cows instead.

The light started fading so we headed back. There was still time to get a photo of the Crows coming into roost against such a vivid back drop.

Saturday, 2 January 2010

Well I hope everyone had a cracking Christmas and New Year and if it was anything like mine, you probably ate, drunk and slept too much. There aren’t many things better though than a belt adjusting Christmas dinner! Thanks for reading this too, it will just be a light hearted diary of the compilation of a bird watching year list. It will be totally random and in most cases grossly exaggerated! Thanks to my long suffering partner too, who will no doubt get her fair share of unwanted attention in these pages. There’s nothing anonymous about this but I thought it best she take on a deep and meaningful alias. Something, which after all these years is a statement about my love and passion? I thought Romeo and Juliet may be a bit too obvious so opted for another one of life’s famous sweethearts, Kermit and Miss Piggy. Miss Piggy will be chuffed to bits when she finds out about this. I’m not entirely sure she knows the web address for this? So could possibly be living in ignorant bliss. There’s a good chance too that if the Shat Birder blogspot is never featured on the X Factor or Strictly Come Dancing, the possibility of her never hearing about it are high!

Miss Piggy had actually spent the festive period with the “sniffles” wrapped in a duvet, clutching a Lemsip. I’d been fine. That was until the 29th! As I sit in bed, skim reading Flight Identification of European Seabirds, Miss Piggy gave me a look that suggested a pre new years kiss may be on the cards. As I flicked the light off and got the back of my roaming hand slapped she gave me a quick peck before rolling over with the lion’s share of the duvet. What I didn’t know at the time, was that the quick peck had infected me with a potentially life threatening disease. Within hours I was shivering, sweating and nauseous. She is adamant that it was the same virus she had had, when it simply wasn’t! The strain Miss Piggy had been harbouring for the last couple of days was far weaker, this had mutated upon my contraction to a warmth and energy sapping life form of its own. Had I not built up my fat reserves in the previous week it may have been a different story. A lesser man probably wouldn’t have made it. The next morning I had been reduced to cold lifeless husk unable to even protest slightly at the back to back episodes of Eastenders. All I wanted was to watch the Test Match in peace! I’m not sure whether it’s other people’s generosity or personal greed but this Christmas I seem to have put weight on faster than a Seal pup. Hopefully a few hikes along Filey Brigg will help turn this unwanted keg into the six pack I can so clearly see in my mind? It’s the finger food though that does it. On every table there are nibbles! I wouldn’t mind but every year I fall foul of the wolves in sheep’s clothing – Mince Pies. The crust never feels that warm! My one and only Mince Pie of this festive period had a filling that could only be likened to Magma. My lips blistered on contact making me reel away like a ten year old boy avoiding a kiss from his moustachioed Grandma. The burns cream that I found in the “medicine cupboard” (which was probably years out of date) frothed around my lips giving me a Kujo esque rabid St Bernhard look, which is not a good. The family kept their distance!

It is the first year that I have bought all my presents on the internet. No Christmas Eve dash to Meadowhall fighting the crowds. I got everyone what they wanted without leaving the comfort of my desk. Naturally that is what the internet at work is for, to be abused! It will probably be February now when I find out that my card details have been cloned by some Nigerian gang. I was actually the victim of identity fraud eight years ago. It was well over a year before I reported it as the criminals were spending less than Miss Piggy!

On the 30th though, and far from being myself, we got in the car and set off to Filey and the rest they say is history. On January 1st my 2010 list began with the first year tick being awarded to Herring Gull, a very vocal individual screaming out from a chimney pot as I pulled back the curtains. It had snowed a bit during the night leaving the ground lightly covered. I hadn’t had a drink New Years Eve as I still wasn’t match fit after my bout with Super Man Flu, so although not feeling 100%, I was still probably feeling a whole load better than if I had of sunk a few. This was probably a good thing as the steps down to Coble Landing would have been better tackled with a Bobsleigh! Once down, the beach area was fine. There was a good mix of the commoner gulls feeding around the surf and a few Cormorant and Eider offshore. A nice bird to start the year off was a Grey Plover feeding with Oystercatcher, Redshank, Turnstone, Knot and Dunlin. It is not a particularly rare bird but one never really seen it vast numbers. Just as I had got started I was unfortunately having to turn round and head back to Coble Landing as the snowfall had become harder making it impossible to bird watch.

It didn't seem to bother the lads collecting Cockles though!

As I did make my way back I could have been the hero by alerting the local authorities to the dorsal fin of Carcharodon carcharias, the Great White Shark destined in 2010 to wreak havoc on Filey’s Chief of Police. The distant shape moving through water actually turned out to be something even scarier. It was someone taking a New Years day dip! I was struggling to feel the binoculars in my hand it was that cold and someone was in the water! Insane.

Birdwatching over, it was into Scarborough for a walk around the Harbour which was welcomed upon parking up on Marine Drive by the imposing silhouette of the resident Peregrine Falcon on the castle hillside. Peregrines have an aura that commands respect and it is such a shame I couldn’t get a better picture to do it justice.

When the sea is rough Scarborough Harbour is very good for divers, particularly Red Throated, seeking refuge from the open sea. Today was fairly calm so there wasn’t much around, a couple of Cormorants and a Guillemot being all on the water with plenty of Gulls and Turnstone on the various jetties.

The weather forecast for today had not been too good so we decided we would head back to Skelmanthorpe at dinnertime giving us plenty of time should the roads be bad. This gave me a couple of hours on the Brigg to do a bit of sea watching and a good couple of hours they were too with Common and Velvet Scoter, Red Throated and Great Northern Diver, Long Tailed Duck and Fulmar being recorded. A bonus too was flushing a Woodcock from the side of Carr Naze whilst peering over the side looking at a Rock Pipit. The forecast was right and the snow started coming so it was time to head back and bundle Miss Piggy and Junior Shat Birder into the car and head for home!